Sometimes you have to leave North Carolina for quality hiking, especially in the winter.
Yesterday, I went on a hike with Carolina Mountain Club to the Foothills Trail in South Carolina. The 77-mile trail lies southeast from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park. As its name implies, the trail follows the base of the Southern Appalachian mountains but it’s not flat.
We started at the Laurel Falls Access on a windy dirt road four miles from SC 178 and walked about 5.5 miles to Lake Jocassee and then back. It was a warm, gray day as the trail went up and down, up and down. Lots of high-quality wood steps made the climbs easier.
The Foothills Trail Conference (FTC), the nonprofit that promotes and supports the trail, does a wonderful job of maintaining the trail. Though we had to negotiate some blowdowns, I could tell the trail is well-maintained during the main hiking season.
The unifying feature of our section is water. We crossed and crisscrossed Laurel Fork Creek many times on sturdy bridges. Someone counted 20 bridges in just 5.5 miles. I didn’t verify this.
We had our mid-morning snack at Virginia Hawkins Falls, a wide falls with several smaller cascades to follow. The falls were named in 2004 for Virginia Hawkins, the long-serving executive secretary of the Foothills Trail Conference. Just the fact that FTC could name a waterfall for one of their employees and so recently as well tells you that this land is private. It’s owned by Duke Power Energy which harnessed the water for power generation.
The state with Duke Power also built Lake Jocassee, though it’s difficult to know without more research if Duke is still using the site for power. We had lunch on the edge of the lake and stared at Laurel Fork Falls on the opposite side. Can you see the falls on the back left edge?
We walked back – up and down – and beat the rain to our cars.